How Skype Can Quickly and Easily Become a Social Network (and Clean Facebook's Clock)

skype_logoAs a longtime Skype user who never felt that the service fit with eBay, I was thrilled to hear that it’s being spun off. And now I have some thoughts on how it can quickly and easily become an equally successful social network. [digg=http://digg.com/tech_news/How_Skype_Can_Quickly_and_Easily_Become_a_Social_Network]

In some respects, Skype already is the world’s largest social network, with hundreds of millions of users. And as a peer-to-peer system that generates revenue primarily through outbound phone minutes, Skype doesn’t need to sell advertising, which means that it doesn’t need to infringe on users’ privacy by turning their personal information into a salable commodity for advertisers — in my mind the fundamental flaw of web-based social networks. In other words, Skype has in place a well-established foundation for a social networking system based on privacy and trust. So what might a social Skype look like?

Skype already has a great client for real-time communication: a social graph of people its users know and call. It’s available for every major platform, and given Skype’s popularity, there are a large number of people online at any one time. Each Skype client could serve a XML file with the user’s current status, media files, link feeds and so forth, and to obtain a real-time view of what’s happening with other users, it could call around to folks in a user’s Skype list to get the latest updates. Such a system could be highly decentralized, with most content served directly from one user to another, and largely self-hosted, which means the infrastructure costs would be much lower than a centrally run web service.

The user experience would be effortless. Users would simply see more social features appear in upgrades to the Skype client, with, for example, Twitter-like functionality to broadcast to friends and followers in one panel, a link/news-sharing interface in another. By moving this functionality into the client, apart from a caching mechanism to temporarily store content for users while they’re offline, the need for a centralized web-based infrastructure is greatly reduced.

Apart from poking Facebook in the eye, why should Skype become a social network? Because it would drive phone minutes and SMS messages between friends, which drives revenues — which makes it a smart business decision. Besides, I’ve never bought the idea that a dominant position in a market guarantees long-term success. Skype took out a whole slew of early VoIP networks to become the world’s phone company — it could quickly and easily become the world’s social network, too.